Breaking the Barriers: The 21 Percent Gap
Oh, please! People don’t stereotype working women anymore, do they? There were many media reports about the remarks in 2005 made by Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard University. The Boston Globe reported that at a conference about women in the science and engineering fields, then-president Summers commented that “innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers.” He asserted that, in high school, more boys have high math and science grades. This ultimately creates a small pool of women entering college programs in these areas and leads to a small number of women at high levels in science and math jobs, Summers said in the article.
Another reason Summers mentioned was “the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.” Summers denied that socialization and discrimination were issues that kept women out of these fields; rather, he insisted it was innate differences and personal family choices.
Along with stereotypes, there continue to be court cases and settlements at companies where women have alleged unequal treatment. Career opportunities, pay, promotions, mentoring, and receiving training continue to be areas where women may find themselves treated differently less than their male counterparts. Stay aware of major court cases that impact working women like the 2002 $31-million settlement by American Express Financial Advisors, Inc., or the 2007 Morgan Stanley class action settlement of $46-million both cases that alleged gender discrimination and unequal treatment of women in career growth and job responsibilities. Did you know that in 2014, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 21 percent? The gap has narrowed since the 1970s , due largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate. But progress has stalled in recent years, and the pay gap does not appear likely to go away on its own.
This stuff still happens. It’s important to be aware that stereotypes and unequal treatment may be impacting your career and how you are seen and heard on the job. What barriers are keeping women from achieving their career goals? If the workplace treats everyone fairly, why aren’t more women holding higher-level positions? We still hear about the glass ceiling that often seems impenetrable to women, an ultimate barrier that keeps women away from the executive club. Although there’s increasingly less talk about the glass ceiling, barriers still seem to be keeping women from climbing the corporate ladder.
We tend to minimize the roles that gender differences, socialization, and discrimination play in maintaining the status quo in the workplace. There’s a feeling that, after all, in this day and age workplace gender stereotypes and pay inequities just don’t happen anymore. Wrong! If a woman wanted to be president or vice president or lead a country, she could, right? Well, maybe if she lived in Ireland, Great Britain, Israel, Argentina, Finland, India, Chile, or New Zealand, Scotland to name a few countries that have or have had a woman national leader. Of course, this is an election year that has Hilary Clinton running. There are some promising statistics. In 1985 there were 2 women in the US Senate. Today there are 20.
In my training sessions, we hear and talk about the barriers that are keeping many women from promotions, challenging assignments, or the jobs they truly want. These include procedures and policies that are not family-friendly or working-mother-friendly, the ol’ boy network still in place, lack of training and specific development goals, unequal pay, differing communication styles, lack of power, and stereotypes and bias. Other barriers women talk about include working in inflexible workplaces, perceiving that you’re put on the slow track for promotions, not being part of the network and insider information, continually having to work harder than male coworkers, having decisions constantly questioned, being viewed as a joke, being ignored, being harassed, having no meaningful mentoring, and being isolated as the sole woman in a group or department. These are also perceptions of why some women choose to leave a company and start their own business.
Companies invest lots of dollars into their employees through training, time, and work experience. The last thing a company should want is to lose valued employees.